MOZAMBIQUE

South African Andre Hanekom, arrested for alleged jihadist activity, dies in prison; family suspects ‘poison’

By Peter Fabricius 24 January 2019

Photo: Andre Hanekom (supplied)

Andre Mayer Hanekom, the South African professional hunter and fisherman accused by Mozambique of complicity in a jihadist insurgency, died in a prison hospital in Pemba in the far north of the country on Wednesday.

A person close to his family told Daily Maverick that his family suspected that Andre Hanekom might have been poisoned.

The South African government confirmed Hanekom’s death. Ndivhuwo Mabaya, a spokesperson for International Relations and Co-operation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, said the department had heard of his death from his wife Francis but not yet from Mozambican authorities.

He said Sisulu had directed South Africa’s High Commissioner to Mozambique, Mandisi Mpahlwa, to engage the Mozambican authorities on the circumstances of his death.

We are shocked as you are,” Mabaya said, saying that Mpahlwa had travelled from Maputo to Pemba in the country’s northernmost province Cabo Delgado last Thursday to see Hanekom in prison and that he seemed well.

But Hanekom suddenly fell ill the very next day, on Friday, according to a knowledgeable source. Hanekom’s wife had reported that Andre had started having convulsions early on Friday evening and had been taken from his prison cell to the prison hospital.

On Friday night he had fallen into a coma which lasted until Sunday when he had opened his eyes but could not speak.

This morning (Wed) he started bleeding and he died – of organ failure – at about 4 am.”

This source said the family suspected he had been poisoned and that Francis Hanekom was talking to Mpahlwa to try to ensure that an independent autopsy would be done either before or after his body was brought back to South Africa.

On Sunday Francis Hanekom posted this poignant message on her Facebook page: The High Commissioner paid us a visit with his delegation. I am so grateful for their wonderful support and assistance. I am sure their physical presence here will have plenty of positive effects in our battle against the injustices committed against Andre. Now I am not alone anymore. The watchful eye of our SA Government in his case, will ensure that the few corrupt men against Andre will have to answer to “big brother” as well, when Andre is not treated fairly and humanely. Thank you to these very supportive people whom I have had the priviledge to meet.

Mabaya dismissed any suggestions that the South African government had not done enough to keep Hanekom safe.

When someone is detained in a foreign country, we have limited powers,” he said.

But he recalled that when Hanekom was first arrested in 2018, Mpahlwa had travelled to Cabo Delgado to find him and inform his wife of where he was.

Mabaya also noted that Sisulu had called for South Africa’s Hawks to investigate the arrest of Hanekom.

This apparently referred to a statement which Sisulu had issued on 1 January after Hanekom had been arrested a second and last time late in 2018.

Sisulu said then that she had received a report from Mpahlwa about the charges facing Hanekom, “related to his supporting and aiding an extreme jihadist group that is destabilising the northern part of Mozambique. These jihadists’ activities are also linked to the deaths of over 100 people in that area.

The Minister views the charges in a very serious light and has requested South African law enforcement agencies to also investigate the charges with the aim of ensuring that no South African citizen become involved in activities that destabilise other countries, in particular, our good neighbour and friend,” the statement said.

The people of South Africa and Mozambique share a very deep political history and very strong economic relations,” Sisulu said. “It is not acceptable that a South African citizen is in court for alleged involved (sic) in extreme jihadists activities that resulted in the loss of life. South African citizens should spread love and peace across the SADC area, continent and the world.”

Her statement appeared to be more sympathetic to the Mozambican authorities than to Hanekom. It gave no impression that Pretoria was concerned that Hanekom might have been wrongfully arrested.

Yet Francis Hanekom and other members of the family and friends have insisted that Hanekom was entirely innocent of any jihadist activities. They have indicated that they believe he was either framed by business rivals, probably trying to grab his well-placed property on the seashore at Pemba Marine, or was arrested because of mistaken identity or a misunderstanding of objects found during a search of his property by the police.

The High Commissioner paid us a visit with his delegation. I am so grateful for their wonderful support and assistance. I am sure their physical presence here will have plenty of positive effects in our battle against the injustices committed against Andre. Now I am not alone anymore. The watchful eye of our SA Government in his case will ensure that the few corrupt men against Andre will have to answer to ‘big brother’ as well, when Andre is not treated fairly and humanely. Thank you to these very supportive people whom I have had the privilege to meet.”

A source has said Hanekom might have been confused with a geologist who had been working in the mineral-rich area at the time of his first arrest. And the source added that police had found objects such as a few machetes, a small quantity of gunpowder and some marine flares, in his property which might have aroused suspicion. Yet these were not unusual objects to find in the home of a professional hunter who lived in the bush, refilled his own bullets and used to take fishermen out to sea in his boat on charter trips.

One person who knew him described him as “an old seadog, not a jihadist”.

The suspected jihadist insurgency erupted in Cabo Delgado province in October 2017, with co-ordinated attacks on police stations. Since then well over 100 people, mainly civilians, have been killed in scores of attacks. Many of the victims have been beheaded or maimed, reinforcing the impression that the assailants are jihadists.

The group suspected to be behind the attacks has been variously named, including al-Shabaab or Ansar al-Sunnah, but has never publicly claimed any responsibility for the attacks, leaving some doubt about the true motives for them. DM

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